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TIP OF THE DAY: Olive Oil Polenta Cake

We have advocated olive oil cake before. But this is a variation with polenta (cornmeal) instead of white flour.

Olive oil cake is a standard in some parts of Italy, substituting olive oil for butter as the fat. So is polenta cake, with a hearty crumb.

Both are rustic, uniced cakes. When we first tried an olive oil cake, moist and springy, we had no idea it lacked butter. When we first tried polenta cake, we fell in love with the irony:

We’ve often called muffins “uniced mini cakes,” because many are so sweet. With polenta cake, it’s the opposite: a sweet corn muffin in the guise of cake.

In Italy, an olive oil cake is usually made with all-purpose flour and often has citrus accents, which complement the olive oil. But any flavor can be used, including chocolate; as can a liqueur. Some recipes include pieces of fruit in the batter as well as zest and juice.

For a wine pairing, serve it with an Italian dessert wine wine like Vin Santo. There’s more about wine pairing below.

The following recipe, adapted from one in the cookbook Cake Keeper Cakes, is fragrant from olive oil and juicy with roasted grapes. Use any seasonal fruit, from berries to lychees to peaches.

In addition to adding fresh basil, we made basil whipped cream. If you like basil as much as we do, try it! As with all homemade whipped cream, it must be whipped right before serving. However…

If you want to use it but need to prepare it in advance, make stabilized whipped cream.

RECIPE: OLIVE OIL CORNMEAL CAKE

We adapted this recipe from Lauren Chattman’s book, Cake Keeper Cakes, adding fresh basil. It may sound unusual, but it’s terrific, as is rosemary. Made with cornmeal instead of wheat flour, it’s also gluten-free (corn in all ground forms is gluten-free: corn flour, corn meal, grits, etc.).

Why aren’t there more rustic cornmeal cakes with herbs? We have no idea—especially since some recipes are very similar corn muffins.

Our guess is that bakers think that American’s won’t try a cake with herbs. (Thanks to cake mixes, we’re all familiar with oil-based cakes.)
 
Ingredients For 8-10 Servings

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1-3/4 cups (10 ounces) red seedless grapes, washed and dried
  • Optional: 1/4 cup Limoncello*
  • 1-3/4 cups (10 ounces) red seedless grape
  • 1-3/4 cups (10 ounces) red seedless grape
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting -or- crème fraîche -or- mascarpone -or- lightly sweetened whipped cream
  •  
    For The Basil Whipped Cream

  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream†
  •  
    Preparation

    If you add all the grapes at once, they’ll sink to the bottom. So reserve half and scatter them on top of the cake after it’s been in the oven for 10 minutes. They’ll sink slightly, but will still be visible.

    As for the garnish, we’ve never been fond of confectioners’ sugar. Pretty as it looks, it too easily falls onto one’s clothing. Instead, we prefer a dairy topping: crème fraîche, mascarpone or lightly sweetened whipped cream. This toothsome, rustic cake is better with a modestly sweet or tangy garnish.

    If you don’t have a spring form, you can make this cake in a bundt.

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F and grease a 9-inch round springform pan.

    2. WHISK together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

    3. COMBINE the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is light in color and has increased in volume, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Turn the mixer to medium speed and beat for 1 minute. Turn the mixer to low speed and stir in the milk, vanilla, and lemon zest.

    4. KEEPING the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, until just incorporated. Stir in half of the grapes. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes.

    5. SCATTER the remaining grapes over the top of the partially baked cake and continue to bake until the cake is golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes longer.

    6. TRANSFER the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool for 5 minutes. Release the sides of the pan and let the cake cool completely before dusting with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into wedges and serve. When ready to serve…

    7. MAKE the basil whipped cream. Purée the fresh basil and sugar together in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and add the cream, whipping until it forms soft peaks. Serve immediately.

     

    Olive Oil Cake

    Cake Keeper Cakes

    Olive Oil Cake With Orange

    Olive Oil Cake

    Olive Oil Cake Citrus Garnish

    Vin Santo

    [1] and [2] A polenta cake with grapes, from Cake Keeper Cakes (recipe at left). [3] Olive oil cake with orange top (here’s the recipe from Newlywed Cookbook. [4] Olive oil cake made with Grand Marnier and white flour (here’s the recipe from Food 52). [5] Polenta olive oil cake with citrus garnish (here’s the recipe from Frog Hollow Farm). [6] Vin santo, a wine served with biscotti, is a good pairing for the cake—as well as the options below (photo courtesy Blog Siena).

     
    You can store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrapped in plastic at room temperature, for up to 3 days. Otherwise, freeze the leftovers.

    MORE OLIVE OIL CAKE RECIPES

  • Lemon & Olive Oil Cake With Strawberry Syrup (AP flour)
  • Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake (cake flour)
  • Lemon Basil Olive Oil Cake With Yogurt (AP flour)
  • Olive Oil Cake With Amaretto & Orange Zest (AP flour)
  • Orange Olive Oil Cake (AP flour)
  • Rosemary Olive Oil Cake (AP flour and cornmeal)
  •  
    WINE PAIRINGS WITH OLIVE OIL CAKES

    A dessert wine, of course! Suggestions:

    Sweet Sparkling Wines

  • Amabile and Dolce sparkling wines from Italy
  • Asti Spumante (sparkling moscato) from Italy
  • Brachetto d’Acqui (a rosé wine) from Italy
  • Demi-Sec and Doux sparkling wines from France (including Champagne)
  • Dry Prosecco (a.k.a Valdobbiadene) from Italy
  • Freixenet Cordon Negro Sweet Cuvée and Freixenet Mía Moscato Rosé from Spain
  • Sparkling Gewürztraminer from Treveri Cellars in Washington, USA
  • Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec from California, USA
  •  
    Sweet Still Wines

  • Banyuls from Roussillon in the south of France
  • Late Harvest Zinfandel from California
  • Lustau Muscat Sherry Superior “Emlin” fom Spain
  • Recioto Amarone from Veneto, Italy
  • Ruby Port from Portugal
  • Vin Santo from Tuscany, Italy
  •  
    Liqueurs also work.
    ________________

    *The first time you make this cake, you may wish to leave out the liqueur and concentrate on enjoying the basil.

    †The difference: Whipping cream contains 35% fat while heavy cream contains 38% fat. They are interchangeable in recipes.

      

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    RECIPE: Chocolate Peppermint Pie

    February 19th is Chocolate Mint Day. You could grab a York Peppermint Pattie, or you could make this easy pie.

    It contains both white and semi-sweet chocolate chips and crushed peppermint candies, plus an Oreo cookie crumb crust.

    The active time is 30 minutes, but it takes 6 hours to set in the fridge. So get started!

    Note that, like a mousse, this recipe is not cooked. So if you have any health concerns, use Safest Choice pasteurized eggs.

    HOLIDAY NOTE: If you make this during the holiday season, you can garnish it with miniature candy canes.

    RECIPE: CHOCOLATE MINT PIE

    Ingredients For 10 Servings

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup whipped cream
  • 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy (about 20 round, striped candies like Brach’s)
  • 1 nine-inch pie crust (baked pastry crust or crumb crust such as graham cracker or chocolate may be used)
  • 1/2 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips, melted
  • Optional garnish: Junior Mints, halved miniature York Peppermint Patties, miniature candy canes
  •  

    Chocolate Peppermint Pie

    Red Striped Peppermints

    [1] A pie you can call “refreshing” (photo courtesy Safe Eggs. [3] Use round striped peppermint candies, unless you have a stash of candy canes (photo courtesy Stock Exchange).

     
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar in large bowl. Beat together with an electric mixer on low speed. Increase the speed to high and beat until smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

    2. REMOVE a half cup of the cream cheese mixture and set aside.

    3. ADD the white chocolate to the sugar and eggs, beating on medium to combine. By hand, fold in the whipped cream. Gently stir in the peppermint and pour into the pie crust. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Meanwhile…

    4. STIR the chocolate chips into reserved 1/2 cup cream cheese mixture. Remove pie from refrigerator. Slowly pour chocolate mixture over pie. Spread to cover pie, or use knife to swirl chocolate. Freeze, covered, until firm.

    5. GARNISH as desired and serve.
     
     
    MORE CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT RECIPES

  • Chocolate Peppermint Whoopie Pies
  • Chocolate Mint Cookies (like Thin Mint, but better)
  • Chocolate Tarts With Peppermint Cream
  • Homemade Peppermint Patties
  • Hot Chocolate Peppermint Bark Ice Cream Float
  • Inside-Out Peppermint Patties
  • Mint Chocolate Lava Cake
  • Oreo Peppermint Truffles
  • Peppermint White Hot Chocolate With Chocolate Peppermint Bars
  • Two-Layer Chocolate Peppermint Pie
  • White Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn Bark
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Types Of Meringue, Plus Red Wine Meringue Cookies

    All meringue begins the same: with egg whites beaten with some form of sugar. But from there, pastry chefs evolved different preparation techniques to produce different results.

    You may think of meringue as cookies, or dessert cups that hold fruit or mousse, like vacherins or pavlovas*. It can also be made into a cake layer (dacquoise), or float, freshly beaten, in a sea of creme anglaise.

    The Difference Between Pavlova & Vacherin

    Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert or formed into a crisp shell. It is filled with fresh fruit, ice cream, mousse and/or whipped cream.

    Vacherin is also made of crisp meringue, but typically formed into layers that are filled with almond paste, fruits, ice cream and/or whipped cream.

    Essendially, they use the same ingredients, but style them differently.

    (Note that vacherin is also the name of a cow’s milk cheese made in France and Switzerland).

    TYPES OF MERINGUE

    French Meringue

    That’s classic meringue, a dry meringue also called basic meringue.

    Egg whites are beaten until they form soft peaks. Then sugar—ideally superfine sugar, which you can make it by pulsing table sugar in a food processor—is slowly incorporated to maximize volume. This results in soft, airy, light peaks that stand up straight—for a while, anyway (they’ll ultimately deflate).

    French meringue is spooned or piped into dessert shells (such as vacherins) and cake layers (as in a dacquoise), and baked, later to be topped with fruit, mousse, or whipped cream.

    It is also often folded into batter to make lady fingers, sponge cakes and soufflés.

    Italian Meringue

    A softer style of meringue, Italian meringue can top a lemon meringue pie or Baked Alaska.

    One of our favorite childhood desserts, Floating Island (île flottante in French), consists of beaten egg whites form into “islands” and set in a sea of custard sauce (crème anglaise).

    After the whites have been whipped to firm peaks, boiling sugar syrup is poured in. Whipping continues until the meringue has reached its full volume, sand is stiff and satiny.

    The technique delivers a more stable, soft meringue for cakes, pastries and pies, that doesn’t collapse.

    Italian meringue is often used to frost cakes; it can be used alone or combined with buttercream. It creates meringue toppings on pies.

    Here‘s a recipe.

    As a technique, pastry chefs use it to lighten ice cream, sorbet and mousse.

    Swiss Meringue

    Swiss meringue is whisked over a bain-marie to warm the egg whites. After the sugar is completely dissolved, the mixture is removed from the heat and beaten vigorously to attain full volume. It is then beaten at a lower speed until cool and very stiff.

    This forms a dense, glossy marshmallow-like meringue. It is usually then baked.

    Swiss meringue is smoother, silkier, and somewhat denser than French meringue and is often used as a base for buttercream frostings.

    Here’s a recipe from Martha Stewart.

    MERINGUE-MAKING TIPS

  • The mixing bowl and beaters must be absolutely clean. Any grease in the mixture will deflate the meringue.
  • Do not make meringues in humid weather. Moisture will prevent egg whites from forming stiff peaks.
  •  
    RECIPE #1: RED WINE ITALIAN MERINGUE COOKIES

    Only a pinch of red wine sea salt is used, to garnish; so if you don’t have/want to make red sea salt (the recipe is below), look to see what you do have; lavender or rosemary sea salt, for example. In a pinch (pun intended), you can use plain kosher salt or coarse sea salt.

    Ingredients

  • 4 ounces dry red wine
  • 7 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg whits, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch salt
  •  
    Preparation

    1. HEAT the wine and sugar to a rolling boil, in a saucepan over high heat.

    2. ADD the egg whites to a clean bowl and mix at high speed, until the egg white is all frothy and starts to form soft peaks. When the wine comes to a rolling boil…

    3. LET the wine boil for another 60 seconds, remove from the heat and pour into a measuring cup with a lip, or other easy-pouring vessel. With the mixer on high…

    4. SLOWLY pour the wine down the sides of the bowl. Continue to mix at high speed until the hot mixture reaches room temperature (the volume will continue to increase). Turn off the engine of the mixer once the mixture has cooled down.

       

    Meringue Cookies

    Pavlova

    Vacherin

    Vacherin

    Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

    Floating Island

    [1] Meringue cookies (photo courtesy American Egg Board). [2] Pavlova: a hollow center that’s filled with strawberries (photo courtesy Rob Shaw | Bauer Media). [3] Vacherin: layers of meringue filled with fruit, etc. (here’s the recipe from Hello Magazine). [4] A vacherin variation: stacked layers of meringue garnished with fruit and whipped cream (here’s the recipe from Martha Stewart). [5] Floating island: freshly-beaten meringue in crème anglaise (here’s a recipe from Big Red Kitchen). [6]. Swiss meringue, colored to frost cakes and cupcakes (photo Johnny Miller | Martha Stewart).

     

    Red Wine Meringues

    Red Wine Sea Salt

    Pink Meringues

    [7] Red wine sea salt meringues (photo and recipe courtesy Raw Spice Bar). [8] Homemade red wine salt (photo and recipe courtesy Two Wolves). [9] Pink and chocolate: the perfect meringues for Valentine’s Day (here’s the recipe from The Kitchn)

       

    5. PREHEAT the oven to 225°F, and pipe or otherwise shape the meringue as you wish. First line baking sheets with parchment, dusted with confectioner’s sugar to prevent sticking. Then you can use a piping bag with or without nozzle (the original meringues were shaped with two spoons!). You can pipe roses, stars, or use the occasion to pipe different shapes (why must they all be uniform?). Here’s more about piping meringues.

    6. BAKE for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and cool to room temperature (you can leave in the oven with the door open). If not using the same day…

    7. STORE completely cooled in an airtight container, packed loosely and with room at the top, so you don’t crush them.

    RECIPE #2: HOMEMADE RED WINE SEA SALT

    Ingredients

  • 3 cups red wine
  • 1-1/2 cups coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BRING the wine to a boil in a saucepan over medium to high heat. Reduce the temperature and simmer until the liquid reduces to 1-2 tablespoons and is thicker and a bit syrupy.

    2. ADD 1 to 1-1/2 cups of salt For every tablespoon of reduced wine. Add one cup, stir and if the liquid hasn’t absorbed as well as you would like it to, add some more. Stir until the salt is completely covered. Spread over paper towels on a plate and let dry overnight.

    3. STORE in clean air-tight jars; add a ribbon and present as a gift.

    HERE’S MORE ABOUT MAKING YOUR OWN FLAVORED SALTS.

    It’s easy, it’s great for gifting, and you’ll save a fortune! Check it out.

    Here’s more about flavored salts—not all are made from actual sea salt. Conventional salt is less expensive; and when it’s flavored, you can’t detect the subtle mineral and other terroir nuances of sea salt anyway.

    THE HISTORY OF MERINGUE

    Some sources say that that meringue was invented in the Swiss village of Meiringen in the 18th century, and improved by an Italian chef named Gasparini.

    Not all experts agree: The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, states that the French word is of unknown† origin.

    The one fact we can hang on to is that the name of the confection called meringue first appeared in print in chef François Massialot’s seminal 1691 cookbook (available in translation as The court and country cook…. The word meringue first appeared in English in 1706 in an English translation of Massialot’s book.

     
    Two considerably earlier 17th-century English manuscript books of recipes give instructions for confections that are recognizable as meringue. One is called “white biskit bread” in the book of recipes started in 1604 by Lady Elinor Poole Fettiplace (1570-c.1647) of Gloucestershire.

    The other is called “pets” in the manuscript of collected recipes written by Lady Rachel Fane (c. 1612–1680) of Knole, Kent. Slowly-baked meringues are still referred to as pets in the Loire region of France (the reference appears to be their light fluffiness, perhaps like a kitten?).

    Meringues were traditionally shaped between two large spoons, as they are generally at home today. Meringue piped through a pastry bag was introduced by the great French chef Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833—he preferred to be called Antonin), the founder of the concept of haute cuisine.

    He also invented modern mayonnaise, éclairs, and other icons of French cuisine.

    ________________
    †Contenders from include 1700 on include, from the Walloon dialect, maringue, shepherd’s loaf; marinde, food for the town of Meiringen (Bern canton, Switzerland), is completely lacking. None of the others sounds right, either. By default, we like the Latin merenda, the feminine gerund of merere to merit, since who doesn’t merit a delicious confection? But as our mother often said: “Who cares; let’s eat!”

      

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    RECIPE: Valentine Brownies

    Want to bring something fun to work or school for Valentine’s Day?

    These strawberry brownies from Kevin Lynch of Closet Cooking can be made for any occasion.

    But we especially like the heart-shaped effect of halved strawberries for “love” occasions: Mother’s, Father’s, Valentine’s, anniversaries, etc.

    You can adapt the idea to your favorite brownie, or use his. Wwe tweaked his a bit, using 2/3 cup sugar instead of 3/4 cup, since the chocolate topping is so rich; and used white chocolate for the top for color and flavor variation.

    For a step-by-step photos and substitutions for gluten-free, vegan, etc., see the original article.

    RECIPE: STRAWBERRY HEART BROWNIES

    Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Cool Time: 30 minutes Total Time: 1 hour Servings: 9
    Chocolate covered strawberry topped fudge-y brownies!

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound strawberries, sliced (look for smaller strawberries to maximize the heart effect)
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (substitute white chocolate if you prefer)
  •  
    Preparation

     

    Chocolate-Strawberry Brownies

    Fresh Strawberries

    [1] The strawberry “hearts” make these brownies easy to love (photo courtesy Closet Cooking). [2] Use smaller strawberries for more of a heart shape (photo courtesy Quinciple).

     
    1. GREASE an 8-inch-square baking pan. Optionally, line it with foil or parchment, overhanging to make lift-up and clean-up easier. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

    2. COMBINE the chocolate and butter in a sauce pan over medium heat; melt, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and let cool.

    3. MIX the sugar into the eggs. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Blend the melted chocolate into the egg mixture, followed by the flour mixture.

    4. POUR the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake about 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven.

    5. SPRINKLE the strawberries on top of the brownies. Melt the chocolate over medium-low heat on the stove or in a microwave. Pour it over the strawberries and let cool until the chocolate is set, 30-60 minutes.
     
    MORE VALENTINE DESSERT RECIPES

  • Chocolate Pudding With Strawberry Rose
  • Coeur À La Crème
  • Easy Chocolate Pudding Pie
  • Frozen Raspberry Soufflés
  • Red Velvet Raspberry Truffles
  • Strawberry-Brownie-Marshmallow Skewers
  • Valentine Cheese Plate
  • Valentine Jell-O Shots
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Practice Your Frosting Roses (& Maybe A Party?)

    Since childhood, our favorite part of a birthday cake has been the buttercream roses.

    No matter whose cake it was, we had to have a slice with a rose.

    You too?

    Then Valentine’s Day is your opportunity to practice piping frosting roses.

    Do we have to mention, you get to eat all the “learning mistakes?”

    (We don’t want to demotivate you, but tutorials often recommend that beginners work with Crisco until ready to take on frosting. Rationale: You can put the Crisco flowers back into the can and re-use it. Bah!)

    There are numerous tutorials on YouTube. We’ve included two below:

  • One for roses to put on a cake.
  • One for cupcake roses: The basic one in the second tutorial is pretty easy.
  •  
    If you don’t have a piping set and don’t want to buy one until you’re sure you want to pursue the craft, see if you can borrow one.

    People often have a set they rarely use (we have two sets!).
     

    HAVE A PIPING PARTY

    You can turn piping flowers into a friends-and-family event.

  • You can make it BYO piping bags, tips and, for cake flowers, a #7 flower nail).
  • Or, to make a real party out of it, you can provide these relatively inexpensive items as party favors.
  • Consider hiring a professional—a specialty cake baker or the decorator from your local bakery to guide the group.
  • You can tell guests to bring what they want to decorate (un-iced cupcakes, cakes), or provide them.
  •  
    If you’d like to make the chocolate cupcakes with pink roses (top photo), here’s the recipe.

    There’s chardonnay in the frosting!
     
    WHAT NEXT?

    If you really get into it, pick up a copy of The Contemporary Buttercream Bible.

    After you master roses, there’s an entire garden of frosting flowers to pursue—from anemones, sweet peas and ranunculus to billy balls (like pom moms), succulents and sunflowers.

    We found the chart below on Pinterest, attributed to the Instagram account of My Sister Bakes.

    (Attention social media gods: We need a reliable system for attribution so the originators can get credited.)
     
    NEED INSPIRATION?

    Here it is: Envision a cupcake party you created, with these different buttercream flowers.

    Buttercream Flowers

     

    Rose Cupcakes

    Cupcake Rose

    Buttercream Gardenia Cupcake

    Chrysanthemum Cupcakes

    The Contemporary Buttercream Bible

    Yes you can! Start practicing, and if you need an incentive, have a cupcake piping party.[1] Photo courtesy Kendall-Jackson. [2] Photo courtesy My Cake School. [3] Photo courtesy The Sugar Fairy | Pinterest. [4] Photo courtesy Taste Made. [5] Get serious with a copy of The Contemporary Buttercream Bible (photo courtesy David & Charles).

     

    It’s even easier to frost a cupcake:

      

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